And curiously it helped to have the reptile as his companion in this. The reptile was holding as still as ever, its attention trained only forward. It believed, too, that there was something there.
They waited a long time.
At length San crept forward a little. The reptile’s eyes darted to him for a moment, though San did not glance back. He was tempted to, a little, if only to see whether he could read anything in the reptile’s gaze that might tell him something useful, but for the moment it was more important to keep his sight trained on where he had seen the movement, in case he saw it again. It was a common strategy among agents to wait until those who might see them had grown tired and distracted, and slip away in that moment. In that same vein, they were taught that their gaze was like a pin.
It had to be used judiciously, of course, but if you had some certainty of where your quarry was, it was best not to look away unless you had some other contingency, like a partner lying in wait that you were trying to drive them towards.
San had no such partner. His only companion was the reptile, who was behind him, and who would not be much use even if they did run into some trouble. The fact that the reptile stayed quiet, and did not hiss, could have been a helpful indicator if they had known each other better. But they did not, and San was not sure what to make of it. Perhaps the reptile thought that the thing in the shadows was no threat, and therefore felt no need for further posturing. Perhaps freezing was its response to a danger that it did not feel that it could win out against.
At least it caused him no immediate trouble. That was blessing enough, he supposed.
San had hoped his own movement would prompt whatever it was into revealing itself, but the thing must have been more patient than he had given it credit for. Or more terrified, or more imagined, he supposed. Any of those could be true. Suffice to say that nothing happened, and so he inched forward again. He did this only because he felt that it had not been very large. The movement of some larger thing would have looked different, and been easier to notice. And anything that was genuinely threatening would likely have made a threatening display by now, wouldn’t it…?
Granted, he was no more an expert on creatures than he was on rocks. He didn’t even know very much of cats, though he had worked with one for as long as he had been Watchful, almost.
But Roku was something of an odd case, or at least he had been in Xinzhou. The creatures here were all different.
… That thought prompted him to try speaking. “Who’s there?” he said softly. They were all intelligent, weren’t they? And Common was the tongue of choice in these parts. It was possible that the cave dwellers didn’t speak it, of course, but it was worth trying, at the very least. And perhaps his voice, and the recognition that he was an intelligent being who could be reasoned with, would help his case with the thing that was hiding from him.
Nothing. He tried again, this time a little coaxing, as though he were speaking to… another Harachiu, say. “It’s alright,” he said. “We’re not going to---”
He was rewarded for his efforts just as he spoke, though not the way he might have hoped.
The thing, whatever it was, darted out all at once, fleeing deeper into the tunnel. San caught only a glimpse of it, and from what he saw, it had been a very small thing indeed. There was a flash of color as the beam of the flashlight caught one of its... horns? San couldn’t be sure. Everything had happened so quickly, and his vision in these conditions really wasn’t the best.
… Well. At least it hadn’t been anything dangerous.
“Are those the things you’ve been looking for this whole time?” San said to the reptile. Such a tiny creature might not have registered with San, come to that, because they didn’t really pose a danger unless they were venomous and actively being sent after him. And there had been nothing like that in Xinzhou, or at least not so commonly as to have been a thing that agents were trained to guard against.
Perhaps it was more of an issue here. Though for some reason San rather doubted this. “You wanted to eat one, didn’t you?” he said to the reptile. As if in response, the reptile opened its jaws and its tongue lapped out very briefly.
“I am probably not allowed to let you eat strange things,” San said to it. “Especially if those things happen to still be alive. I don’t know what you eat at home, but providing your meals wasn’t in my job description.”
The reptile looked at him. There was, San supposed, not much else in these tunnels worth looking at. “If you don’t care for those terms, you can take it up with the one who hired me.” If it really meant that much to the reptile, San was sure they could come to some sort of arrangement, though in truth he would rather not.
He was a good cook, and he enjoyed cooking, but he wasn’t sure that he would enjoy cooking for a reptile of that size. Not to mention what it might like to eat.
The reptile swung its tail, but not with any particular vehemence. After a moment, San relaxed. “There’s nothing else to see here, is there?” he said. “Let’s keep going.” Truth be told, at this point he wondered if they ought to turn back. They had been here a little while already, and he didn’t know how much longer the reptile would tolerate a place like this. But it didn’t show any obvious signs of being unsettled, and San hadn’t yet found anything of note, so he wanted to keep going a little longer.
And then a noise - and this time San was on full alert. He recognized the difference in quality this time.
The last had been fainter, the stirrings of a creature too small to trifle with or to register as even a remote threat, but this was different. This was... San shone a flashlight over to where he thought he had heard it, and was rewarded with the sight of one of those creatures he had heard about. A snake, only made of glittering stone, and curled around a small hoard of similar stones.
"Oh," San said. He was, briefly, at a loss for words.
The reptile with him had no such reservations, and hissed once at the newcomer. "No, hush," San said to it. Whether it listened to him or not, at the very least it subsided after this first salvo, and did not try any further threats. That gave San time enough to crouch down, holding out a hand to the gem snake. "Do you... Do you understand Common?" he ventured.
The gem snake's reaction suggested it probably didn't understand what he was saying after all. San frowned slightly, considering his options. He knew that he ought to see if he could convince the creature to come with him. He could use a guide for these caverns, after all. The pile of rocks it was guarding was enough evidence already that it was much more adept at finding precious stones than San himself, or the reptile that stood behind him, for that matter.
It thought he was going to steal its hoard. That much was readily apparent. San considered his options, then reached into the bag he was carrying and pulled out a few coins.
He had found them in that strange house, and had kept them on his person ever since, hoping they would come in handy. He offered one to the gem snake now. "I could offer you payment. This is... valuable to you?" he said.
Huh! The wyrm seems more interested in you now something is on offer. Making sure not to stray too far from its loot, it slithers forwards and stares at the coin. Pretty. Then, it is given an experimental chew.
It seemed that the concept of payment and barter, at least, was understood by the gem snake, even if they had no common language with which to communicate verbally. Then again, it wasn't as though San knew anything of these gem creatures' tongue, if one existed - and one must, mustn't it? He was a little startled when the gem snake bit into the coin, but... Well, he had offered it, after all.
And being made of minerals itself, maybe this was what its diet consisted of. But sometimes food was used as wages too, in Xinzhou.
San offered another coin to the gem snake, but stepped back slightly this time, and jerked his head towards the entrance, to imply the idea of the gem snake coming with them. The reptile behind him backed up when he did, though not before bobbing its head once or twice, whatever that might mean.
The snake seemed to find the terms agreeable, even though the exact specification of those terms were a little vague, due to how they had been worked out. San took a few experimental steps away and was gratified to see that the gem snake followed.
That having been dealt with, he managed to turn his attention back to the reptile... just in time to see it swing its tail. San tensed, instinctively readying himself to... No, no, that wasn't it. He wasn't here to fight this creature. Instead he went to its head. "Whoa, whoa there," he said as soothingly as he could. "That one doesn't mean us any harm. It's okay. It's alright..."
But he could take a hint. It was time for them to take their leave of this place, at least for now. Maybe at some later point they would return, but for the moment San turned their party around and headed back to the entrance.